Science and Environment

Gov’t shuts down Project NOAH

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte government has shut down Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazard), the flagship research program on disaster prevention and mitigation of the Aquino administration.

The government has no additional funding to cover the extended implementation of the existing programs of Project NOAH.

Project NOAH executive director Mahar Lagmay warned that the Philippines may lose dozens of disaster scientists and researchers when a major component of the program is terminated by the end of February.

“Those scientists, when they disband, where will we get them (when the need arises)? We have trained disaster scientists, and we actually need more because our problem in the future will become worse, especially with climate change,” he said in a press conference this week.

“I want to save the team because the moment that they disband, we’re back to square one… I dread to see the Philippines lose all of them,” he added.

Lagmay said the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has not approved the proposal for the continued implementation of ISAIAH (Integrated Scenario-based Assessments of Impacts and Hazards), a NOAH component program focusing on disaster risk assessment at the municipal level.

In addition to risk mapping, ISAIAH also aims to evaluate disaster risk reduction and management capacities of local government units, and provide data and risk information to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

Lagmay said requests for additional funds for other component projects, which are set to end this year, have also been denied. The projects employ another 200 experts from various disciplines.

In a statement, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña clarified that the promised deliverables of Project NOAH have already been met and are now ready for adoption and use.

“It has to be understood that research projects have start and end dates,” Dela Peña explained. “The statement of no funds is for the current project, which really has a project end date. It has been stated clearly that new project proposals are welcome if there is a new study to be made.”

In a phone interview with The STAR, the DOST chief noted that Project NOAH was supposed to end in 2015 after the completion of most of its component projects.

However, it was extended in 2016 to cover additional targets, including the implementation of ISAIAH.

“It’s already an extension,” he said when asked about the decision of the DOST not to provide additional funding for the program.

According to Lagmay, the initial funding for ISAIAH only covered 15 provinces. Their proposal was to allow them to create municipal risk assessments in the entire country.

Turnover to PAGASA

According to Dela Peña, the government will adopt the technologies produced by Project NOAH.

“In this project, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) is the principal government agency that would take over the operations aspect of the delivered outputs and technologies,” said the secretary.

“Its adoption by PAGASA ensures the NOAH tools will be institutionalized. The project has delivered what it has promised to deliver. The results are useful and should be institutionalized in regular government agencies whose mandates cover these areas,” he added.

But for Lagmay, the work of Project NOAH is far from over.

“There are a lot of programs that NOAH can work on because research will never stop. Every disaster unfolds in a different way. And when they unfold, we learn lessons,” he said.

He said more than the technology, it is the possible loss of human resources that he is concerned about.

“We have to take care of the human resource. That is more important than any technology that we could have developed,” said Lagmay. “They will be the ones who will save us in the future… I’m mustering all of our energy. My intention was just to take care of the human resources.”

Dela Peña said he understands the concern of Lagmay over the possible loss of human resources, expressing his hope that those who worked with Project NOAH will work with them during the transition and later apply for plantilla positions with government.

He said they have also allocated a huge portion of their funds for research, including topics covering disaster prevention and mitigation.

“If the researcher has a new project proposal in a related area, it can be submitted, evaluated and considered for funding… A new project would mean a new project name,” Dela Peña said.

Lagmay, however, said a new name would be counterproductive as the public recognizes Project NOAH as the government’s program on disaster prevention and mitigation.

“Why fix something that is not broken?” he asked.

He called on the public not to inject politics to the issue, saying the matter came up even during the Aquino administration.

Created in 2011, Project NOAH, which is based at the University of the Philippines, is composed of various disaster mitigation and prevention component projects funded by the DOST.

Lagmay said they are pushing for its institutionalization as the current setup makes the program reliant on funding provided by the DOST on a per-project basis.

He said various agencies, including the Office of the President and the office of Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, have reached out to him over the weekend to discuss the impending termination of Project NOAH.

He said they are not ruling out the possibility of accepting funding from other sources, including the private sector, to ensure the continuity of their existing programs.

“Even though the source of funding from DOST has ceased, the name Project NOAH will remain because it is the government program that funded the generation of the products,” Lagmay said.

“We thank the DOST for allowing us to take part in creating a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation and the opportunity to serve the Filipino people,” he added. – With Rainier Allan Ronda

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